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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2006 Week 3 Hansard (29 March) . . Page.. 802..


DR FOSKEY (continuing):

For example, we have legislated for young people to be given the vote only after they reach the age of 18. Paradoxically, this could be one of the worst times to grant such a right. At the age of 18, many young people leave the community where they have lived for most of their life. They either go away to uni, to get some space away from their parents who may still see them as the children they were a few years before, or in search of work. Many young people only get the right to vote when they are living in a community they know little about. We need only witness the students who come to universities here from other places and their lack of engagement with ACT politics as such. I know about that.

Lowering the voting age to 16 will give the vote to young people while they have roots in a community and an appreciation of local issues. It is ironic that a 17-year-old is old enough to join the armed forces but not to vote in this country. The 2004 youth electoral study found that students do not see voting as part of the transition to adulthood. Turning 18, attending schoolies, getting a drivers licence and leaving school are, in their opinions, far more important rights of passage.

It is common knowledge that the earlier in life a habit is formed the more likely that habit or interest will continue throughout life. If attempts are made to prevent young people from picking up bad habits, why do not we make more attempts to get them started with good habits like being interested in politics? If citizens begin voting earlier and get into the habit of doing so earlier, they are more likely to stick with it through life and to know more about what they are doing.

People aged 16 and 17 will vote. Take, for instance, the case in Germany where young people are allowed to vote in local elections. Between 30 and 50 per cent of young people aged 16 to 17 were voting. In the city of Graz in Austria, where voting is non-compulsory, 16 to 17-year-olds vote at a higher rate, 58 per cent, than the total voter turnout of 57 per cent. Last week I asked a group at Radford college year 9 students whether they would vote if they could. Almost every hand went up. Further than that, they all said that they would engage much more with politics, read the paper, so that they would know what they were voting for.

Politicians and members of the public too often consider young people to be problems that must be dealt with rather than potential problem solvers and social contributors. We fail to take young people and their opinions seriously. I found, when I was standing for election in the past, that young people's issues were overlooked constantly at the federal level-less so here but certainly at the federal level-amongst other candidates. Governments did not bother to put out policies that related to young people. Why is that? Probably because they do not vote.

Lowering the voting age is not a magic bullet to improve the lives of youth but, by giving them a real stake in their futures and their present lives, more will become involved. The ACT Greens strongly urge this Assembly to seriously consider lowering the voting age to give 16 to 18-year-olds the choice whether or not to vote.

MR STANHOPE (Ginninderra-Chief Minister, Attorney-General, Minister for the Environment and Minister for Arts, Heritage and Indigenous Affairs, and Acting Treasurer, Minister for Economic Development and Business, Minister for Tourism,


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